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The Impact Of The “Summer Slide”

Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 5:35 PM

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Photo courtesy of AreYouMyRik/Flickr.

Ah, the summer slide. It's not your child's playground agenda during their school vacation-- it's a term used for the regression of students' skills over their scholastic summer breaks. And as many schools wind down their academic years this week, StateImpact Ohio's Amy Hansen tells us about an alternative option, along with options parents can use to keep their students engaged.

School summer vacations tend to leave U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a little bit baffled.

“Students and teachers work so hard, get to a certain point in June, and too many come back in the fall further behind than when they left,” said Duncan. “That just simply makes no sense.”

Duncan chatted on WCPN’s daily call-in show The Sound of Ideas about how much of what students learn slips away during the long summer break. 

Research shows many students, especially low-income students, tend to loose math and reading skills over the summer.

Duncan thinks that could be combated by having more time in school then they’re getting today. 

“If we’re serious about ending the cycles of poverty and social failure, the traditional calendar, six, six and a half hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, is insufficient if we’re serious about the traditional is insufficient for some children,” said Duncan.

One alternative? Year-round schooling.  In education circles they call it a “balanced calendar”: students go to school for periods of around 30 to 45 days, intermixed with a handful of two-to-three week breaks. A few schools within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District have already switched to this kind of schedule, and a few more plan to.

Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, says the idea that year round school is the solution to summer learning loss is questionable.  She points to an Ohio State study on the balanced calendar to make her case. 

“Kids lost the same amount of learning over the course of the year over a balanced calendar, it’s just they lose it in smaller pieces,” Pitcock said. “I think our response to that approach is you still have to think about those intercessions, and the question is really, how can you add more time for the kids who need it most.”

The discussion also focused on ways to make the time out of the classroom count.

Education Secretary Duncan stressed the responsibility of parents finding ways to keep their kids engaged during school breaks.

And that was echoed in this email from a listener, read on the air by Sound of Ideas host Mike McIntyre.

“Parents can take advantage of summer reading programs offered by most public libraries during the summer months,” McIntyre read. “Parents should especially encourage their tween and teen children to participate in these programs, this is when reading really drops off.”

Parents were encouraged to check out partners in their communities, like libraries or other organizations, that may offer some educational summer programming to keep students learning over school breaks. 

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